Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bees In An Iron Cage? Part I-- Introduction

On November 4th at 7:30 pm, I will be giving a presentation entitled "Bees in an Iron Cage?: The Formal Rationalization of 20th Century American Apiculture" at the Stark Auditorium at Winona State University. The presentation is part of Winona State's CLASP lecture series which has as its theme this year, Food. I will be collecting my thoughts for this lecture and writing my notes right here on my blog: Canaries In A Coal Mine.

About two years ago, the news media reported a mysterious "new" disease that was attacking and killing thousands of managed bee hives throughout the United States. Labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the disease exhibited the following symptoms:

1. "Complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with little or no build-up of dead bees in or around the colonies.

2. [The]Presence of capped brood in colonies. Bees normally will not abandon a hive until the capped brood have all hatched.

3. [The]Presence of food stores, both honey and bee pollen:

i. which are not immediately robbed by other bees

ii. which when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed." Wikipedia

As many in the beekeeping and entomology community can tell you, this is not the first time these symptoms have occurred nor are they the first major threat to the honey bee population. Over the last few decades, honey bee health has been threatened by other pathogens including both tracheal mites and, in the late 1980s, the varroa mite.

Scientific research into the causes of CCD have discovered multiple factors connected to the outbreak, including: nutritional deficiencies in bees, new and emerging diseases (e.g.Nosema ceranae), the continuing infestation of varroa mites and its associated disorders, pesticide poisoning originating both inside and outside the hive, and a lack of genetic diversity in the honey bee population. (CCD Steering Committee 2007)

As an environmental sociologist, I agree with social ecologist, Murray Bookchin "... that nearly all [of] our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems. " The biophysical factors connected to Colony Collapse Disorder, and the general decline of honey bee health over the last few decades have their foundation in human social structures that conflict with the biophysical needs of other living creatures. The aim of this presentation is to briefly examine one such structural process (formal rationalization) and its possible effects on honey bee health. In doing this, I clearly recognize the limitations of this presentation. First, I do not claim rationalization to be the chief social factor behind the decline of honey bee health. In other places, I have pointed to the possible effects of globalization, agri-business practices and techniques and the structure of the subfield of beekeeping within the larger field of modern agriculture. Secondly, I do not claim that all rationalization of apiculture has been bad to bee health, nor do I claim to be an expert in bee management. Lastly, I do not claim any original insights here. Much of what I will speak of tonight will be painfully recognizable to anyone familiar with the factory farming of other creatures humans find useful and profitable to manage.

My presentation will begin with a brief discussion of the term rationalization and its use in sociology. I will then turn to a short history of the rationalization of apiculture in the United States over the last 160 years. After this, I will give a few examples of ways that rationalized techniques of bee management may conflict with the biophysical needs of honey bees. Lastly, I will describe some of the anti-rationalization movements emerging in the beekeeping world today.

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